Top 5 Most Overrated Places To Take Photos in Charleston, SC (Written By A Local)

March 21, 2024

According to travel blogs, Charleston is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. The historic downtown, gorgeous beaches, and natural beauty make it a destination for weddings, engagements, and increasing amounts of tourists every year.

Being a full-time photographer in such a well-photographed city has given me experience with the best, worst, and most overrated places for photoshoots in the area. While you may be familiar with some of these locations, others may be new to you. I'm not disagreeing that these are iconic places—these are simply my thoughts from the perspective of a photographer who has a passion for natural light and an aversion to large crowds (especially while trying to shoot).

That being said, here are my top 5 most overrated places to take photos in Charleston, SC:

1. Pineapple Fountain

I just don't get it. People are everywhere, and oftentimes there are kids swimming in the water around the bottom of the fountain. There's also these huge manicured hedges that (I think) give the area an overall fake look. It's a big spot for proposals as well, and I don't understand it. You're guaranteed to be surrounded by random people you don't know, there's probably a half-naked child swimming in the water by your feet, and the hedges give the whole thing an artificial feel. Which is what makes it, in my opinion, one of the most over-photographed places in Charleston.

Truthfully the most I'll use the pineapple fountain in my work is as a meeting place for my clients before walking to our actual photo spot. In all my years in Charleston, I think I've had one, maybe two successful photoshoots there. Other than that, it's a bit overdone and I'm indifferent to it at this point.

2. Hampton Park

At least 95% of the park is a terrible backdrop for photos. I've discovered one one tucked-away spot that has beautiful light and feels like you're in the jungle, but other than that, I find it super overrated.

Here's my hot take for you: gazebos are extremely annoying to take pictures of. First of all, they're giant: you have to be so far away to even get them in the picture. Or you have to be up really close, and then it shows up as a weird structure behind people that makes the background look distracting and fragmented.

But the light is hard to work with—it's very flat and brown. I'm also not a fan of photographing around man-made lakes, which is one of the biggest features of Hampton Park. Water is very tricky to get in pictures the right way, especially if it's a flat lake. The light reflecting off of the water at the wrong time of day can absolutely ruin a photo. Plus, it can be difficult to get a clean shot as the park is surrounded by residential streets with parked cars and houses on the other side of the road.

It's also generally too crowded for my taste. You also can't walk 10 feet without tripping over another photographer, especially during wedding season. I will admit that the park has some really pretty trees, but that's about all I can say in its defense. When people reach out to me about shooting in Hampton Park, I will gently try to persuade them to go somewhere else.

3. Shem Creek

I love visiting, exploring, and going to restaurants in the Shem Creek area; and I do love taking pictures there if it's one person for a small branding shoot. But the walkways on Shem Creek are small, narrow, and crowded with all different types of people: drunk couples coming from the bars, dog walkers, and families with young kids making lots of noise. This means that if you're shooting with multiple people, you'll constantly have to stop or pause in the middle of a photo to let someone pass by. Plus, you never know what kind of crowd it'll be so you need to be prepared for anything. It's also more difficult for people to relax if they feel like they're being watched, and the popularity of Shem Creek guarantees that a person will be watching the shoot no matter the time of day.

As for the physical space itself—the railings on the walkway are around 3 feet high, cutting off the marsh view in the background and making an awkward background in shots. What draws people to want photos taken at Shem Creek is the beautiful marsh landscape, but the railings completely cut it off.

I will say that the photos can be stunning when the stars align. But overall it's a tricky place to take photos, and the expectation is so different from the reality that I'm categorizing it as overrated.

4. Rainbow Row/Downtown In General

The reality of downtown Charleston that most tourists don't seem to understand is buildings like the ones on Rainbow Row aren't just historic, static landmarks with a marked spot to take photos—those houses are people's homes. There are residents of the area going about their day-to-day lives. This means there will be traffic, people coming and going, cars parked out front. So not only is it one of the most over-photographed spots in Charleston, but it's another example of what you expect the photos to look like vs. the reality of the shooting location being dramatically different. There might not be as many cars or people if you do a sunrise session, but the truth is that most of the time it can be downright impossible to get a clean shot because people live there.

The same can be said for doing photoshoots around downtown Charleston in general. It's challenging because of the constant barrage of people and cars, but it can be especially overwhelming if you're photographing kids or dogs. Highly sensitive people also tend to have a harder time with downtown photoshoots (speaking as a sensitive person myself). It can be very overstimulating to concentrate on having your picture taken with the constant noise of cars beeping, people passing by, and general sounds of the city behind you. It's hard to get the relaxed, charming family photo you were hoping for when your dog is distracted by every little thing or the kids won't stop crying because it's too hot.

Similarly to Shem Creek, you're also very aware that you're being watched—especially in the more touristy areas. And you may already be feeling vulnerable and uncomfortable if you're one of those people who don't like having your picture taken.

I feel like most of these places have come with a caveat, and this one is no different. There can be little nooks and crannies of downtown that are quiet and peaceful. For the photos to turn out well, though, it takes the right time of day and the right type of person who's down to explore places off the beaten path.

5. The Beach

A lot of these locations made this list because the expectation of what people want their photos to look like is so drastically different from what the location actually offers. The beach is another one of those places, and it really comes down to the kind of person you're photographing. It's difficult to shoot with clients who want everything to be perfectly posed with not a hair out of place. PSA: the beach is a nightmare for those people because the wind blows your hair everywhere, all the kids are running around, getting dirty with water and sand, who knows where the dog is, and the sun is blinding when not shooting at sunrise and sunset. Plus, the more people you have, the more out of hand it can get. Let's just say the beach is not the place to go if you want professional headshots or not-a-hair-out-of-place engagement photos. Plus, does the world really need more family portraits in matching white shirts and khaki pants?

At the same time, I've done beach shoots where people don't want anything posed—where instead they have fun, run around, and play in the sand and the water. Those shoots end up being amazing. So if you go to the beach with a playful mindset, then you'll likely have a great time and your photos will turn out much the same: messy, fun, and unique.

So there you have it: my top 5 most overrated places to take photos in Charleston. Like I said, I'm writing this from my own personal experience and what works best for my photography style. This may not be your same experience, and it's true that these places are well-photographed for a reason. I'm not hating on the locations themselves, just their tendency to be in every photo you find on Instagram if you search #charlestonsc.

I'll probably do a follow-up post where I share my top 5 most underrated places to take photos. But until then, it's a secret that only my clients and I know. So if you want to be in the know about the coolest places in Charleston to do a photoshoot, fill out my contact form here or send a DM on Instagram here. I send out a location guide as a part of my photoshoot onboarding process and am happy to share my favorites with you.